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Still shot from the movie: The Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life

After a tragic event, Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn) tries to understand the meaning of life by looking back at his childhood during the 1950, and remembering the lessons learned from his parents (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain).

Overall Grade: --
Violence: --
Sexual Content: --
Language: --
Drugs/Alcohol: --
Release Date: 26 May 2011
Run Time: 140
MPAA Rating: PG-13

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In-Depth Review

Nothing seems to encourage unconventional filmmaking like the theme of death. Add a contemplative approach to the origin of the universe and you get The Tree of Life, a non-linear look at generations of a family dealing with the untimely demise of one of their own.

Artistic camera angles, handheld cinematography, pensive stances and meditative ramblings are interspersed with the portrayals of a flickering flame. Trying to keep up with the endlessly jumping storyline and the inventive images of the earth’s creation takes work. You’ll either love it or hate it. Or maybe I just wasn’t up to the needed effort.

The film begins in the 1950s with the arrival of a letter announcing the death of the son of Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien (Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain). Despite his commitment to living a good life, this is just another setback endured by Mr. O’Brien who also faces a job loss and career disappointments. Making peace with his lot in life proves difficult.

The story then moves to the present day where the couple’s other son (Sean Penn), now grown, works as an architect (though Jack seems to spend more time looking out of windows and musing over his lost brother than designing). In flashback, we watch the O’Brien siblings grow up in a home with a strict and driven father and a gentle mother. Expressions of love are more of a requirement than a heartfelt demonstration.

As the young Jack (Hunter McCracken) reaches adolescence, he rebels against his Dad’s tough attitudes and his mom’s mild-mannered nurturing. He sneaks into a woman’s home and steals her lingerie. He also vandalizes another neighbor’s property. But this loss of innocence haunts him into adulthood. In a final sequence, the adult Jack wanders across a rocky landscape in a dreamlike manner where he is reconnected with people from his past with hopes of finding closure.

Without a definitive direction and offering limited dialogue, viewers will have to read their own meaning into this unusual depiction of life’s tragedies. The productions decision to punctuate these hardships with earth’s birth and demise will also make this entertainment option more likely to appeal only to a limited audience.

Release Date: 27 May 2011 (Limited)

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: Parents learn of a child’s death. A mother treats a child’s bloody wound. Kids mock others. Police take away criminals. A dad teaches his boys to exchange punches and later tries to slap his child for talking back. Some domestic abuse between a husband and wife is shown. A father’s anger impacts his family’s home life. A child drowns in a swimming pool. While playing with a BB gun, one boy is shot in the finger. A boy steals a woman’s lingerie. A group of boys vandalize a neighbor’s property.

Sexual Content: A pregnant woman’s belly is shown.

Language: The script contains a couple of profanities and a crude anatomical term.

Alcohol / Drug Use: Some secondary characters smoke.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

How does Mr. O’Brien’s anger impact his family? How does he let his personal and career disappointments affect his relationships with other people? Why does Jack feel like his father is a hypocrite? Is Mrs. O’Brien’s approach to parenting any more effective?

How can childhood experiences affect a person in adulthood? What enables a person to move on with life after suffering setbacks, tragedies or disappointments?

What statement do you think the filmmaker is trying to make with his depiction of the earth’s creation and ending?

Video alternatives

Another son has to come to terms with the emotional legacy left by his father in the movie Five People You Meet In Heaven. A dejected man finds new reason to hope as he remembers the lessons taught by his mother in For One More Day. Artsy visuals and meandering storylines are also applied to a look at the mysteries of the universe in the sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Tree of Life

Release Date: 11 October 2011

The Tree of Life releases to home video with the following bonus extra:

- Exploring The Tree of Life

Join the Conversation

About the Reviewer: Kerry Bennett

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